Is Mnangagwa playing the good cop in Zimbabwe crackdown?

LONDON – While a violent crackdown by security forces on the streets of Harare is continuing following protests against fuel price rises, President Emmerson Mnangagwa took to Twitter to say how ‘appalled’ he was by video footage of an attack by his security forces on a protestor. He promised the arrests of those behind the attack and said it is “not the Zimbabwean way”. It raises the question whether Mnangagwa is saying this, because he knows that he would have to be seen to respect human rights to attract the foreign investment his country so badly needs or is there a power struggle between Mnangagwa and his vice-president, Constantino Chiwenga? It is time for Mnangagwa to show who is in charge in Zimbabwe and to fire elements in his government and security forces if they are ignoring his instructions. – Linda van Tilburg

By Bloomberg News

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa is being defied by members of his ruling party who are orchestrating a violent crackdown after demonstrations this month, government and military officials said.

Door-to-door raids in urban townships by police and men in military uniform are continuing more than a week after a three-day stay-away was called following a more than doubling of fuel prices, the people said on the condition of anonymity. Abuses range from beatings to rape, according to human rights organisations including the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.

The continuing crackdown signals a split in the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front. Mnangagwa, a former spy chief, is trying to court investors to rescue an economy close to collapse and has said he won’t tolerate abuses by security forces. Opposing him are military and party officials who want to retain tight control after ousting long-time ruler Robert Mugabe in late 2017 and benefit from illicit diamond sales, access to scarce hard currency and control over lucrative fuel imports, the people said.

“The reform agenda is being opposed by hard-line elements within Zanu-PF and the state,” said Piers Pigou, senior consultant for Southern Africa at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. “They say it’s a liberal agenda that will not provide a broad-based solution for Zimbabweans.”

Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa didn’t answer calls made to her mobile phone.

Live ammunition

The crackdown has jarred with Mnangagwa’s promise of a “new Zimbabwe” of economic recovery and tolerance of the opposition. It comes after an independent commission of inquiry led by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe found that Zimbabwe’s security forces had acted recklessly when they killed six during an August post-election protest.

Live ammunition was again used against civilians this month, with at least 12 people killed, many from gunshot wounds, while 78 were wounded by gunfire, according to the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights.

Mnangagwa said on Twitter on Jan. 22 that misconduct in the security forces would be probed and “heads will roll” if necessary. Today, he said on Twitter that he was “appalled” by a Sky News report that showed security forces beating a man they had arrested.

Mnangagwa’s problem stems from his obligation to Zanu-PF and the military backers who supported his ascension to power.

Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, a retired general, commanded the Zimbabwe Defence Forces that placed Mugabe and his wife Grace under house arrest and helped force his resignation before an emergency sitting of parliament in 2017. Chiwenga was made vice president almost immediately after Mnangagwa took over.

The officials said a climate of mutual wariness exists between Mnangagwa and Chiwenga. While Chiwenga sees no reason for Zanu-PF’s hold on power to change, Mnangagwa can’t see how he can rescue a crippled economy without liberalising it and wooing foreign investment to a country with the world’s second-biggest platinum and chrome reserves.

Those who are defying Mnangagwa know that he will take the blame, either directly or because he’s failing to rein them in, the officials said. The president’s only hope is to persuade them to accept harsh economic reality – or fire them, they said.

“This is a result of the division. It’s a good cop, bad cop routine,” Pigou said. “While there may be hard-line elements, it’s his government. He has chosen the cabinet.”